May 16, 2011

Land of Promise, Land of Loss


About two thirds of the way up the Bosporus on Istanbul’s European shore sits Tarabya, a little hamlet of glassed-in fish restaurants. In front, the coast road doglegs around a mini-inlet, snarling traffic while black SUVs drop off designer-shod belles. Behind, steep slopes host an improvised McSuburbia with a fabled Bosporus view—increasingly of other McSuburbias. Not the stuff of myth, perhaps, but a boon to any broker’s slick brochure. Tarabya was not always thus. Legend has it that, in antiquity, the witch Medea, heartsick after fleeing her homeland with Jason on the Argo, recovered her serenity upon glimpsing Tarabya’s bucolic magic and threw away her potions—hence the town’s name “Therapia” in the original Greek.

When I was a boy in the 1970s, some 3,000 years later, you could believe it still: the place could heal you. Seemingly upheld by sea light, lofty trees teetered on the bluffs above beached fishing boats and arthritic jetties. Silent yalis marinated in history. Forests reached to the water’s edge. In Tarabya you felt closely monitored by the spirits. Nowadays, the genius loci is more about real estate than sacred terrain. Today’s Medea would likely arrive at evening, enjoy a peerless fish dish with global pals, pop her daily Zoloft before heading out to the glittering nightclubs along the Bosporus. Who can say which Medea is the happier?

Read more on Newsweek: Land of Promise, Land of Loss

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